Extracurricular Activities: Burden or Passion?

Looking into the motivations behind extracurricular activities, including college applications, herd mentality, and other causes.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As you stroll through the buzzing hallways packed with flashy stands and sweet bribes at the Clubs and Pubs Fair, does anything catch your attention? Stuyvesant offers hundreds of extracurricular activities ranging from Science Olympiad to jewelry-making, and more arise each year. Any general interest, such as math or dancing, narrows down into dozens of niche clubs and programs. Among this wide assortment, how do you choose what to join? Do you follow the crowd or focus on discovering your personal interests?

Oftentimes, students pile extracurricular activities onto their schedule, not because of any particular interest but rather in preparation for college applications. Certain clubs, such as the Stuyvesant Key Club and the Stuyvesant Red Cross, are perceived to be more appealing to college admissions officers. These popular clubs often attract more newcomers than smaller clubs focused on specific niches. Senior Isabella Wang joined the Red Cross as a freshman. She believed that “[colleges] value hardworking volunteers who look out for the community.” Students commonly believe that they must demonstrate teamwork and leadership skills in their applications. Leadership is often the goal many students hope to achieve as they invest more time into their extracurricular activities. 

A strong interest or passion in a topic also plays an important role in determining extracurricular choices. Sophomore Jason Chan is part of Key Club and many music clubs, a choice influenced by his love for music. He felt, “students should not be forced to [throw themselves into extracurriculars] but should be encouraged to [join them] for the many opportunities or interests they might have.” Similarly, Wang knew she wanted to pursue pre-med when she entered high school. Her career aspirations influenced her decision early on to pursue extracurriculars, such as the Red Cross, that would support it.

Freshman Siroos Pasdar chose to join The Spectator’s Features Department as well as the tennis team, pursuing his interests as a former newspaper writer in middle school and tennis player outside of school. His past experiences influenced him to participate in similar extracurriculars at Stuyvesant, but he admitted that colleges still factored into his decision to join the clubs he did. He said, “I think that [appealing to college admissions is] part of the reason, but if it [weren’t], I would’ve still joined, but I think that maybe [it partially] motivates me.” Passion is often the driving force behind joining certain clubs, and the desire to stand out for colleges may serve as a secondary goal.

Sophomore Jonathan Yao followed his interest in fitness by joining the Stuyvesant Weightlifting Club and the bowling team, which he had been a part of in his previous high school. In addition to pursuing his hobbies, Yao hopes to eventually attain a leadership position. He explained, “A common stress of all high school students is to join enough clubs to stand out to these amazing colleges.” 

Students participate in activities that they believe will bolster their image in the eyes of admission officers. However, this can sometimes overshadow students' actual passions, making extracurricular activities a chore rather than a hobby. 

Alumna Arpita Saha (‘21) agrees with these sentiments. “If you only join extracurriculars with the intention of looking good to colleges, you don’t really stay committed to doing them. If you started doing an activity that you really don’t enjoy, it’s okay to drop it,” she shared.

Junior Raaita Anwar elaborated that choosing extracurriculars solely for colleges can become too overwhelming. She is primarily involved with ARISTA, the track team, and The Spectator, choices she made for her own enjoyment. “I don’t think you should throw yourself into extracurriculars because it leads to burnout, and you are not fulfilled,” she said. A schedule packed with extracurriculars can become mentally and physically draining, causing students to lose the motivation to engage in activities they were once passionate about. Lack of fulfillment and burnout, when paired with the stress of schoolwork, can become extremely difficult to manage.

Furthermore, popular clubs may not end up being the best fit. The wide array of available options, while overwhelming sometimes, is meant to provide an opportunity to explore and foster various interests before finding the most compelling one. Anwar herself joined Model U.N. as a freshman but eventually realized that it did not suit her interests and subsequently quit. This is a common experience shared between students, especially as freshmen figuring out what to devote their time to. Additionally, Pasdar pointed out, “ [Joining popular clubs] defeats the purpose of joining a club because you’re in a club a lot of people are into, so it doesn’t really make you stand out and be unique, especially on applications. I also think you don’t learn something you’re actually interested in.” Simply following the crowd may not be the best tactic, but using it as a way to introduce yourself to different programs can be beneficial. Anwar stated, “My peers have encouraged me to join different clubs like ARISTA and Big Sibs.” Through this, she was able to discover joy in volunteering.

Students join extracurricular activities for a variety of reasons: passion, the desire to focus on a specific subject, and the hope of standing out to colleges. These extracurriculars often force students to compromise their time and energy, carefully balanced alongside their mandatory schoolwork. As they progress through high school, their reason to commit to these hobbies can evolve as they determine what they enjoy and what is most important to them as a student. Ultimately, the various clubs and programs offered at Stuyvesant are valuable resources that allow students to engage in their interests, regardless of what their goals may be.